Army Faces Stiff Opposition To Its Decision To Charge Property Tax, Oppose AIIMS Construction In Kashmir

SRINAGAR: The army is facing stiff opposition to its decision to charge property tax from residents living in the vicinity of its 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar and its objection to the construction of Kashmir’s maiden All India Institute of Medical Sciences in adjoining Pulwama district.

The AIIMS campus is coming up close to the biggest army installation in south Kashmir.

Politicians and locals see these developments as an extension of the 2019 decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and aimed at further dispossessing Kashmiris.

The army has begun charging property tax from people living within the jurisdiction of the Badami Bagh Cantonment Board — home to its sprawling 15 Corps headquarters — spread over Sonwar, Indra Nagar, Batwara and Shivpora. The thousands of locals living in the area own their land.

Locals said they were receiving bills ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 20,000, charged per annum. Property tax is not charged anywhere else in Jammu and Kashmir.

The army has also renewed its objection to the construction of the AIIMS at Awantipora, where it borders the headquarters of the south Kashmir-based Victor Force.

The chief spokesman the People’s Democratic Party, Suhail Bukhari, said two years of clampdown in the Valley had already broken the back of the people.

“Instead of helping people, the effort is to increase their hardships. The arbitrary decision of imposing property tax should be withdrawn immediately,” Bukhari said.

The local BJP leadership has also asked the defence ministry to reconsider the decision amid the pandemic.

A Sonwar resident said he had spent his life’ savings to build a small house. “I am a labourer and have been finding it difficult to sustain my family for the past two years. Now I am supposed to pay tax year after year. How can I?” he said.

The defence spokesman in Srinagar, Lt Col Emron Musavi, said he had received several queries about the tax since Thursday. “I have raised the queries with the Cantonment Board…. The moment I get details from them, I will share them,” he said.

On the AIIMS at Awantipora, the army has said the construction had violated provisions of the Works of Defence Act (Woda).

Musavi said the army had been advising the AIIMS authorities “right from the inception stage of the project in 2016” that the Woda guidelines had to be honoured for all projects in the vicinity of army establishments.

“The final clearance for all such projects is granted by the ministry of defence. It’s only in January 2021 that the campus construction plans were shared with the army by the CPWD (central public works department) when the construction was already well underway in violation of Woda,” he said. (THE TELEGRAPH)

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